Finding a niche in reading

Even music, art and physical education teachers at Iola schools incorporate books of all sorts into their lessons. It inspires students to find their favorite books. Project Bookshelf is raising money to buy new books for the Iola Elementary School when it opens next fall.



November 5, 2021 - 3:42 PM

Chris Weide, physical education teacher for kindergarten through second grade students at McKinley and Jefferson elementary schools, uses books to teach his students about the value of national parks. Weide and other teachers talk about the need for more books for the new elementary school, a fundraiser called Project Bookshelf. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

“Everyone is a reader. Some just haven’t found their favorite book yet.” — Anonymous

Music teacher Mikaela Crotchett wasn’t a big reader until she came to Iola schools this fall.

She soon learned she’d need to incorporate a variety of books into her lessons for kindergarten through second grade students at McKinley and Jefferson. She asked librarian Tammy Prather for help.

Prather was ready. She pointed to a series of picture books, all related to music.

“Trombone Shorty” caught Crotchett’s eye.

“Hey, I’ve seen him play live,” she said.

She introduced the book to her students, teaching them about the New Orleans boy who played on stage with Bo Diddley as a child and grew up to be a Grammy-nominated jazz musician. Her students were impressed she had seen his show.

And as Halloween approached, Prather met with those same students and asked  them a riddle no student had ever answered correctly before.

“What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument?”

This year, every one of Crotchett’s students shouted: “The trombone!”

How to help

Donations to Project Bookshelf can be mailed to the USD 257 Endowment Association, Attn: Project Bookshelf, 305 N. Washington Ave., Iola KS 66749. For more information, call (620) 365-4700.

Books are everything.

And at Iola schools, they are everywhere. 

Every teacher is expected to use books — and not just the instructional workbooks to teach particular lessons. 

Picture books. Chapter books. Adventure. Educational. Fun. Non-fiction. Fiction.

Even the classes you don’t think about using books, they’ll use books too.

Music. Art. Physical education.

McKinley and Jefferson librarian Tammy Prather, art teacher Gale Hoag, physical education teacher Chris Weide and music teacher Mikaela Crotchett.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Teachers in those classes gathered at Jefferson on Thursday to talk about how they use books in their classrooms. Teachers work together for special enrichment programs, and books are emphasized during those sessions.

They want to encourage donations to Project Bookshelf, a fundraising campaign aimed at raising money to buy books for the new library at Iola Elementary School when it opens next fall.

“Our children deserve a current, high-quality, diverse collection,” Prather said. “Project Bookshelf aims to fill the gaps.”

So far, efforts have raised more than $30,000, or enough funds to purchase 1,200 books.

The new library has a capacity of about 30,000 books.

And while the program already has collected a lot of money, Prather noted it won’t go very far. Books are expensive, and they’ll need to supply reading material for preschool through fifth grade.

Many current books will move to the new library, and they’ll come from each of the three elementary schools.

But the average publication date of the district’s books is 2004. It’s important to keep books current because they are more relatable to students and reflect current events.

Also, the district’s commitment to reading means their books get a lot of love, Prather said.

Last year, McKinley and Jefferson checked out 49,542 books. 

“Some of our collection is outdated, and some of it is just worn out,” Prather said.

“Children love books. People think children just watch TV all day, but at this age, when they sit with an adult and turn that page, it makes an impact.”

IT’S ALSO made an impact on Crotchett.

She’s discovering a new joy in reading. She’s been introducing her students to jazz. They’ve read autobiographies about jazz musicians, and read books based on jazz songs and culture. 

“We even got into scatting, which is really cool but it’s a really hard concept. They just jumped into it.”

She’d like to take a familiar story and have students turn it into a musical, picking songs they like that would fit.

Art teacher Gale Hoag has used the book “Mixed: A Colorful Story” to teach students about the color wheel. She’s currently reading “Balloons Over Broadway” to teach students about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Earlier this week, she introduced students to a book about artist Vincent van Gogh and they drew “Starry Night.”

“They hung on every word,” Hoag recalled. “They knew names, dates. They were really listening.”

And, as it usually happens, her students wandered into the library the next day and asked for books about van Gogh. 

Prather and library paraprofessional Mona Melvin were ready. 

Because they work as a team with teachers, the librarians know which topics the teachers will cover. They pull books on those subjects and create a special display, so they can direct students to more information.

“Every student has their niche, a place where they thrive,” Hoag said. “Some like music. Some like PE. If we are all reading, they’ll find something they like.”

Unfortunately, the library doesn’t always have enough books on a particular topic.

That’s another area where Project Bookshelf can help.

For example, physical education teacher Chris Weide uses books to teach students about a variety of activities, especially things he can’t do in the classroom, such as kayaking. He’s been incorporating books in his lessons for several years.

“It’s not just football and basketball,” he said. 

“And it’s not just sports.”

He’s been teaching students about national parks and monuments. On Thursday, he had a handful of books about places including Mount Rushmore.

He told students his “bucket list” includes a visit to Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Inca citadel in Peru. A student soon came to the library to ask for a book about it.

Recently, Weide came into the library to find books on skateboarding. They only had one. 

Bowling? Only two.

“It makes your heart hurt as a librarian” when someone can’t find a book they want, Melvin said.

LIBRARIES shouldn’t be quiet places, Prather noted.

“For a kid to be a reader in today’s world, it has to be social,” she said. “Long ago, you had a few kids who were bookworms. Today, it is a social activity. It’s talking to a friend about a cool book.”

Weide agreed. 

“Kids today value an opinion if they hear it from more than one person. If we all stress the importance of reading, that’s something they’ll do all the time.”

That’s why Iola schools have created a culture of reading, Prather said. 

“Our kids think everybody reads. They would be astonished to learn otherwise.”



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